From the boring plod of the new Batman movie to the latest scheduling fiasco at Marvel; John Fellows reflects on how, even with the lowest of expectations, the world of comics still manages to let him down.
27 June 2005


Disappointment. My life is a constant stream of disappointment, only tempered by my natural cynicism and apathy. I move from one situation to the next anticipating in what way it will disappoint me - and even still, I am outdone by life.

I imagine this second-hand car I've been sold will probably break down after a couple of months and need hundreds of pounds worth of repairs - and then it spontaneously explodes on the driveway two days after I bought it. I turn up on a Monday for another glorious week at work, hoping that it'll be a little quieter and I can slack off a little - my office spontaneously explodes half an hour after I get there. Even as cynical a man as me - who can imagine the worst, most depraved thing that could happen in any given situation - is still routinely disappointed.

So I saw BATMAN BEGINS last week. A film I was hardwired at a basic nerd level to enjoy despite any potential flaws. I'd read the script that was leaked onto the net earlier in the year and hadn't been that excited, but I'd been assured that Christopher Nolan had made changes since then.

I loved just about every member of the cast, with the obvious exception of Katie Holmes, who shouldn't be allowed in any film and should have her smile nailed shut. I had really enjoyed MEMENTO and didn't really notice that it was more a triumph of writing than direction. And after the last piece of celluloid Bat-action was BATMAN AND ROBIN... well, there was no way it could have been worse than that...

'I was hardwired to enjoy BATMAN BEGINS despite any potential flaws.' And then came the inevitable crash. I watched in awe as my expectations were not only dashed, but then accused of war crimes, sentenced to a stint at Hotel X-Ray and quietly shot behind the bike sheds.

The direction was lacklustre and utterly bland, cutting to close-up during any fight and rendering it intelligible. The utterly pointless addition of Katie Holmes was far more intrusive than I had expected. The film sagged horribly in what should have been the most exciting part, the 'Becoming Batman' section. The dialogue was appallingly bad and in a year when George Lucas has been getting such bad press for his own dialogue, I'm shocked this film has been given a free pass. And Christian Bale's Batman was just trying too hard.

Over all, a boring, mediocre B-list action movie that's presumably only gained its level of notoriety (and its seemingly near-universal praise from the critical press and fans alike) because of people's emotional attachment to the characters and mythology.


The recent announcement by Marvel that Steve McNiven is being removed from his Ultimate project, ULTIMATE SECRET, is the final nail in a scheduling fiasco that has seen several promises reneged. Initially he was going to finish ULTIMATE SECRET and hop over to do a fill-in for David Finch on NEW AVENGERS. However, delays in ULTIMATE SECRET saw him taking a siesta on that to finish the fill-in. Then the siesta became longer in order to fit in an extra issue of NEW AVENGERS (another lazy writers mistake that I'll wax illiterate on another day). Now he's been removed completely in order to let Tom Raney finish the arc.

This isn't an isolated incident at the House Of Delays, and it's not an isolated incident for Warren Ellis. His previous ULTIMATE mini featured fill-ins by Steve Epting when Trevor Hairsine was unable to keep up. On a monthly ongoing series, it's almost understandable. On a mini-series with a finite number of issues and no set release date, it's confusingly inept. It seems to be a problem hounding the ULTIMATE universe, more so because Marvel lets its Young Guns artist loose here - maybe a little too loose.

One of the few successes of the CrossGen fiasco was the raft of artists who evolved within its strict bullpen atmosphere. Joe Cheung (unable to maintain a schedule and shoved on C-List super-titles at Marvel previous to working a CrossGen), Greg Land (a DC stalwart who's photo-ref'd work could never fit a monthly schedule), Brandon Peterson (who?)... All of them flourished at the compound.

CrossGen helped a lot of artists, not just through editorial strict guidance, but by placing them in a creatively lush environment. Marvel seems to have succeeded in mopping up all the artists who thrived there - but all the hard work done by CrossGen seems lost.


If, like me, you are a fan of the condition known as 'humanity', you'll take great pleasure in observing it's foibles and quirky little tics. I, a seemingly intelligent young man, am utterly addicted to the UK version of BIG BROTHER.

I feel there's a lot of upper-middle class snobbery around shows like this, which sees them as lowest common denominator twaddle. However, it's the flood of reality TV shows that followed BIG BROTHER that deserve this reputation, as they became more about TV than Reality. BIG BROTHER has always been a fascinating study of human nature, even when it's at its most daft or showmanlike. And the utterly ingenious way that the reality on screen plays out better than any film (especially ones with bats) or TV drama is a constant source of pleasure. I also like watching dickheads.

'I take great pleasure in observing humanity's foibles and tics.' When I'm at work and there's no BIG BROTHER to watch, I get my fill following the exploits of my favourite comic creators. Now I'm sure that if James Ellroy kept a blog or David Mamet ran his own internet message-board, I'd get as much pleasure from watching them make fools of themselves - but it seems almost a uniquely comics experience that our creators can be such utter dickheads sometimes.

It is undoubtedly due to the inherent self-esteem issues the industry suffers from. Comics is full of people whose lack of confidence in their work, or deep-seated personal problems, have driven them into the creative arts. And sometimes they can make complete twats of themselves. I love it.

I know it's hypocritical, as I've made a twat of myself online several times. In reality, I am reasonable, calm, and very rarely TALK IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I often find that italics can be very persuasive, but I keep my ranting for the written word. Maybe if I were a comics professional, I'd have upstart journos writing lengthy essays about my lack of etiquette too.

But I'm not and so it falls to me to point out their stupidity. We all know who they are (And if you don't, have a look), so there's no need for me to name them out loud. But as targets for my continuing observation of humanity, they amaze me.


I don't want to be disappointed, but people keep giving me reasons. A tawdry ex-indie singer once sang "a pessimist is never disappointed" and she was wrong. Because as bad as I can imagine things being, they're always worse.

That BATMAN BEGINS is a bad film in a year of disappointments should not have amazed me, but it did. I couldn't believe I wasn't enjoying the film. Likewise, I shouldn't be amazed at yet another delay at Marvel after a long string of delayed (THE ULTIMATES), really delayed (DAREDEVIL: FATHER), and no-chance-in-hell-of-ever-finishing titles (SPIDER-MAN/BLACK CAT). And yet I was quite distraught at the utterly bizarre way they handled ULTIMATE SECRET. And I also know fine well how highly-strung and just downright odd a lot of creators are - and I still find myself reading the latest screed about Blonde Latina Hookers and gaping in amazement.

Maybe I should get out more. Or less. I'm never sure. Maybe my disappointment with the world is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe I find these things in order to achieve my disappointment, but that sounds a little too much like something a cheap TV pop-psychiatrist would say.

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with comics if they cause me so much grief. But it's a symbiotic relationship - we, the disappointed are the limpet suckered to the bottom of the great vessel HMS Comics, occasionally bobbing above the water for a quick glimpse and then crashing back down. If we all cling together we'll be fine. Just as long as the boat doesn't spontaneously explode.

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